folklorelei: (the siren)

Random quote of the day:

“Do not believe, though, that fairy tales lie. He who tells them lies—but as soon as it is told, the fairy miracle slowly floats up into the air and goes off to live its life, real, truer than the insolence of everyday.”

—Albert Camus, “Melusina’s Book,” (tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy)

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

torches

The purpose of this post is mostly to call attention to this fascinating and readable academic article by Katharine Luomala from Pacific Studies, 1983. Ms. Luomala does a thorough—and nonjudgmental—investigation of the widely perceived phenomena of Night Marchers, torch-bearing spirit processions which are still being perceived today in the Hawaiian islands. These processions seem to share similarities with the trooping fairies of Ireland, as well as other marching “beings.” There may also be something of the Wild Hunt in this mythology, as well.

The Night Marchers, however, are distinctly Hawaiian, incorporating in their processions the ritual of taboo, where it was on pain of death that ordinary people looked upon the being of sacred chiefs.

As Ms. Luomala explains:

The most sacred chiefs and chiefesses were carried in litters because their feet would taboo the ground. They seldom went out except at night, thus preventing the disruption of daily labor and the chance of a polluting shadow falling on anything or anybody. A taboo-breaker might be killed or seized for a sacrifice at a high chief’s heiau (place of worship). Sometimes the penalty was extended to the violator’s entire family group.

Even in spiritual form, it is widely believed, if you look upon the Night March, you will die—or be kidnapped and forced to march with them for eternity. Whenever you see a line of torches flickering in the distance and dark, folk of the islands say it is best to run as fast in the opposite direction as you can. If flight isn’t possible, hide—but by all means, do not do any curious peeking from your hiding place or you are doomed. If even hiding is not possible, prostrate yourself on your face on the ground and do not look up until you have heard the sound of marching feet pass you by and disappear in the distance.

Here’s the testimony of a limpet picker from 1970:

Suddenly I heard the sound of a conch shell blowing in the distance. Keoki heard it too. I thought it was the wind. Then a little while later we heard it again. This time it was a little louder. It was spooky because we didn’t see anything. Then we heard it again. We looked toward Ka-wai-hae side and then we saw it. It looked like a procession. At first we saw a line of torches in the distance. The procession was moving along the coastline. The conch shell blew again.

I took out my knife and Keoki got the rifle. We went seaward and laid down on the lava rock. We knew about night marchers from other fishermen. We knew you aren’t supposed to look upon the marchers and to lay on the ground face down. We did this. The marchers passed about fifty yards in front of us on the sand path. As they passed we could hear the sound of a drum pounding beat by beat. We didn’t look up until they were farther down the coast. All we could see now was the line of torches, and all we could hear was the far away sound of the conch shell. We didn’t know if they were going to come back that night, but we didn’t want to stick around and see.

Ms. Luomala recounts many such reports—from native islanders, tourists, European explorers—and places them within the context of Hawaiian belief. Like I said, a fascinating article.

I shouldn’t confess this, but I have a terrible addiction to junk TV. I saw a recent episode of Ghost Asylum, one of the stupider ghost hunter shows on the air. They did an investigation of the abandoned Coco Palms resort, reportedly built over one of the well-known pathways of the Night Marchers of Kaua’i. Many locals believe the resort was cursed from the start and is badly haunted. They won’t go there after dark, and say Night Marches are common on the property. It was destroyed by Hurrican Iniki in 1992 and never rebuilt. Some locals say this was a curse visited on them for the sacrilege of building on sacred land. But…developers are currently planning to tear down the Coco Palms and rebuild a new, grander resort. This would bring much needed jobs to the island, but local sentiment is mixed. It’s not for me to say whether development on a sacred site is a wise plan or just more developer hubris, but the investors have pledged to respect the land. They also brought in a shaman to do a blessing, just in case.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

trail-984198_960_720

There’s a fascinating book that I would half-recommend: Running With the Fairies: Towards a Transpersonal Anthropology of Religion by Dennis Gaffin. The first half of the book worked quite well for me, but I didn’t think the latter half of personal testimonies from people who believe they are reincarnated fairies or actual fairies in human bodies quite jelled. I support people believing whatever they like—and it harm none—but I had a problem with their adamant insistence that there is no such thing as a dark side to the fairies. All is sweetness and light in their Universe. Which flies in the face of millennia of human folklore and experience which sees the fairies as a tricksy lot, often inimical to humanity. The believers in this book put that down to superstition and ignorance, but I’m not so certain. People in past centuries may have been superstitious and ignorant, but in general were no more clever or no more stupid then we are. And they had a much vaster experience of the dark side of nature than most of us do these days. It’s easier to discount that chthonic world when you have electric lights and indoor plumbing. If there are such things as fairies, there may indeed be good ones, but I suspect most are at best ambivalent towards humans, and some may actually be malevolent.

But anyway, Dennis Gaffin. He’s an academic (a Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York College at Buffalo) who has done something quite rare: a serious study of contemporary Irish fairy belief. Academics are big on doing serious studies of the folk traditions of Buddhists or South Seas Islanders or Native Americans, et al., but there’s a prejudice against turning that same eye towards Western folk beliefs. It’s an inherently racist stand, I think, that Those People and their Quaint Beliefs are okay to study, but somehow Western belief structures must be dismissed as silly trash. It’s as if the people who are doing the studies have decided that First Worlders are “too good” to have such ideas, that they must be ruthlessly derided and suppressed by Western academia so we can preserve our collective First World reputation.

So Professor Gaffin runs an academic risk here. True, he’s an anthropologist who’s gone native, so to speak, and now perceives fairies his own self. Which further risks his academic reputation, I suppose, but his point of view straddling both worlds is fascinating to me. I feel a kinship to him.
Have I ever seen a fairy? No. Nor heard none, neither. Do I believe in fairies? That’s a thorny question. I believe in another world that cozies up to this one and sometimes leaks through. I suspect that Whatever takes many forms and some people—otherwise rational and solid citizens—see It as fairies. Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, devas, dakinis, djinn, angels, name your poison. It’s all part of the same bag: That Which Leaks Through.

It’s okay. I know you think I’m crazy. When I say I don’t care, I don’t mean it in a snotty or rebellious way. I mean that I made a conscious decision some time ago to share the things of the spirit as they come to me, in case someone else is having similar experiences and wondering if they’re nuts. I can’t answer the question of sanity, but I do know that I am a rational person who occasionally has trans-rational experiences.

When it comes to belief, experience is the core of it, an emotional heart-to-heart with something beyond the narrow confines of personal ego. It’s not a received wisdom, which is why religion often fails to convince. “Belief cannot be transferred,” says Professor Gaffin, “for it is a function of experience.” These things often seem to go hand-in-hand with a closeness to nature. As we move more and more away from the natural world and more into a mechanized, urbanized environment those experiences become more rare.

Scientific education is a great thing and a fundamentally good way of looking at the world. I highly recommend it. But even scientists (well, the rational ones) will admit they don’t have all the answers. There was a time when I was about ninety percent of the way towards atheist. I called myself agnostic, but I’d come to view the Universe as fairly mechanistic. At one point, I finally said, “Okay, I don’t believe there’s anything else.” The Universe decided to call my bet. Almost as soon as I’d uttered that sentence It sent me an extraordinary experience. Followed by another and another until I capitulated, swept up in what to me was irrefutable evidence of there being something else. Generally, I’ve been a great deal happier in my “defeat” than I was in my “victorious” skepticism.

Why me? Why was I sent experiential data? I haven’t a clue. That’s the thing about the Universe. It’s a big freaking mystery with big freaking mysterious ways. We wander down half-formed pathways with thick fog on either side and every once in a while the mists lift to reveal a dazzling view of sheer cliffs and the dramatic crashing of waves far below. Then the clouds return and we proceed on the path—but once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see that amazing sight. You’ve glimpsed the beauty and the peril lying just beyond the verge. You step carefully from that point on.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

brownie-sm

Illustration by Jean-Baptiste Monge

There’s always one in every crowd. You know, you’ve got a good thing going and that one guy or gal pushes things too far and ruins it for everyone. This is no less true when dealing with fairies.

I was reading R. Macdonald Robertson’s Selected Highland Folktales and he told the story of “The Fairies of Pennygown.” If any of the townsfolk of Pennygown needed help with a task, they brought the work of an evening to a certain nearby sithean, a lovely green fairy hill. By morning, the task would be nicely completed: spinning, weaving, repair, mending, you name it. One villager, though, kept leaving more and more difficult things, pushing it.

One night he left by their hillock a piece of driftwood which he had picked up on the sea-shore, with instructions that it was to be made into a ship’s mast. When the villagers came next morning to collect the property left overnight, they found none of the tasks executed. This last request had angered the fairies so much that they had left their hillock, in disgust, for good.

Any reasonable being would be put out by such oafish behavior, it’s true. But it’s also true that helpful fairies are a tricky lot. They can have goodwill towards humans, but it can also turn on a dime. If they’re insulted, they can get mischievous and mean. Some say poltergeists are fairies who’ve become insulted by a householder and take it out in spite.

They also have sometimes exacting standards of what constitutes insult. Brownies and hobs, for instance, will gladly help out with the housework, usually at night like the Pennygown folk. However, they don’t want to be seen, and don’t want payment, or even expressions of gratitude. They will, though, accept gifts, mostly in the form of food, especially porridge and honey. If a householder starts taking them for granted, openly thanks them, or considers the food “payment”—or if they try to get a glimpse of them—the brownies will forthwith abandon the house, never to be seen again or lend their help.

There are other European versions of such beings: tomte in Scandanavia, domovoi in Slavic countries, Heinzelmännchen in Germany, Haltija in Finland, many others. Some have even made the trip over the Atlantic to the Americas. But in my (admittedly limited) investigation of helpful fairy folk, I’ve only found one non-European example of work-helpful fairies, the koro-pok-guru of the Ainu people of the Northern Japanese islands.

These beings would hunt and fish for the Ainu in exchange for little gifts, leaving the goods overnight. Like the brownies, they hated being seen. Of course, one Ainu loser couldn’t leave well enough alone and blew the gig for everyone. The young man in question waited by the place where the gifts were left, determined to see a koro-pok-guru, and laid hands on the first one to appear. It was a beautiful koro-pok-guru maiden, but she and her people were so angered at this affrontery that they disappeared, never to help the Ainu or be seen again.

Very strong parallels with the European myths, but that isn’t entirely surprising. Ainu are racially distinct from the Japanese. Recent research suggests Okhotsk origins and there is still a small population of Ainu in Russia. They share that pan-European ancestry, so they share those ancient pan-European stories.

But as I said, I haven’t found anything else like it around the world. Good and bad spirits aplenty, but none who will pitch in to do the work for humans in exchange for small gifts. I am far from an expert on this, so if anyone knows of such a tradition in a non-European context, I would love to hear about it.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

For St. Patrick’s Day, here’s the incomparable Eddie Lenihan telling a tale:

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

rackham_fairy

A Fairy by Arthur Rackham

You don’t have to be crazy to see things that 1) aren’t really there; 2) other people don’t see; 3) are glimpses of an alternate reality; 4) all of the above and maybe a whole lot more.

I was reading an interesting article from DarkLore, Vol. 8, edited by Greg Taylor: “Dreaming While Awake: A History of Sane Hallucinations” by Mike Jay. You can read the entire article here. In it he speaks of a 90-year-old gentleman, Charles Lullin,

whose sight had been progressively failing since a cataract operation five years before [in February of 1758]…[who] began to see considerably more than he had become accustomed to. For the next several months he was visited in his apartment by a silent procession of figures, invisible to everyone but him: young men in magnificent cloaks, perfectly coiffured ladies carrying boxes on their heads, girls dancing in silks and ribbons.

His grandson, Charles Bonnet, wrote about these visions and those of others with failing sight. It became known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

My mother was just shy of 94 when she passed. I thank all the gods that she retained her mind and clarity, her self, until the last three weeks of her life. When she was 91, however, she had a stroke. We were “lucky” because neither her motor skills nor her speech was affected, although her balance permanently disappeared from that point. She couldn’t stand without a walker, not from muscle weakness but because she would tumble over backward without one. For a woman of her vigorous physicality and drive it was quite a frustration. However, the worst of it was that the stroke affected her eyesight: she had alternating bands of vision and blindness in each eye. The brain, confused by the input it received, often took the jumbled bits and assembled them into something that made sense to it.

My mom at first thought these visions were fact until I explained to her that I wasn’t seeing the same thing. She got so she’d say things like, “There probably isn’t a soldier in a red uniform standing in the corner, is there?” And I would allow as how I didn’t see one. I remember one time discussing with her the weird perception of waking up and not knowing where you are, thinking maybe you’re in some place you lived in two or three moves ago. Mom said that sensation had gone a step further for her: she’d wake and although she knew where everything was and everything looked the same, that the neighborhood seemed familiar, she felt as if the house wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Somehow it had moved, she knew not where. I told her, “Maybe we’ve slipped into an alternate reality and you’re the only one who realizes it.” She laughed. “Maybe so.”

She’d wake up and lie in bed watching a parade of showgirls in full Vegas regalia promenade through her bedroom, up a staircase that didn’t exist, and through a nonexistent second story door. These things probably did not actually exist, but Mike Jay wonders, and so do I, what the true nature of hallucinations are, if no visual impairment exists, if one is not taking strong narcotics, if one is a perfectly rational human being. A significant minority of sane people do see and hear (and smell) things, as many as ten percent of the population. As Oliver Sacks says, “Seeing Things? Hearing Things? Many of Us Do” (New York Times, November 3, 2012).

Mike Jay speaks of “Lilliput sight,” where people see things much smaller than they are. And of parades of tiny people marching to and fro about the room, often ignoring or disdainful of attempts by perceivers to communicate with them. A friend of mine who was a paranormal researcher told of a highly proficient office manager and “nice lady,” who told him that every night for a month, little trooping fairies climbed up her bedspread, marched across the bed, then climbed down the other side and disappeared under the bed. She was too afraid to get up and look under the bed. And as suddenly as the phenomena started, it stopped. A temporary brain fugue? Maybe. But it sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? Like many of the fairy stories of old.

But, although many of the percipients of odd things in such books as Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland or W. Y. Evan-Wentz’s The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries were elders, a significant number were not. Or going blind. Or sots. Or craaaazy. The brain undoubtedly generates chimera, trying to make sense of bits of disjointed experience. These things may exist completely inside a rational mind, conjured up by misfiring synapses, odd perception, or neurological fugue.

Or maybe they aren’t. Maybe the doors to perception do open at random intervals and people catch a glimpse of numinous tides, of What Could Be, or What Is in some universe Over There.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

This is CGI, but one of the best of its kind I’ve seen. The payoff is definitely worth the watching.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

cottingley-fairies

Frances Griffiths and “fairies”

Is there anyone who is a fan of folklore that hasn’t heard of the Cottingley Fairies, for good or ill? There may be a few, I suppose. I’ll give a brief explanation, by way of introducing a very charming film taken from The BBC Roadshow, featuring Frances Griffiths’s daughter and granddaughter.

Basically, two girls named Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright came home one day in 1917 and told their parents Frances had seen fairies by the brook near their village of Cottingley in Yorkshire. Their parents mocked them, which made them mad, so they set about creating photographic proof. They were so determined to come up with this proof that they cut out pictures of fairies from Edwardian books, mounted them on cardboard, and artfully arranged them in the foliage near the brook so they could interact with them. Everyone was amazed. The local theosophists got ahold of the story and ran with it, then the spiritualists, then (and this is what really condemned the girls to a life of lying) the great spiritualist himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who went so far as to write a book on the subject.

Do I believe in fairies?

Certainly not in cardboard cut out ones. A modern eye isn’t as easily fooled, I don’t think, as Edwardians. (But that could just be early 21st century hubris talking.) We look at these photos and think, “How could anyone be fooled by them?” But people wanted to believe, and in that time when photography was new, many accepted that the camera could not lie—and believed.

Do I believe Frances saw fairies that first day and that childish righteous indignation at being mocked for the truth led her and Elsie to a twisted path of lies?

I believe anything is possible, especially lies hiding a truth, and truths hiding a lie. I believe in the will to believe and the will to persuade. I believe that things unseen are not so easily reproduced upon command and the temptation to give nature a helping hand is sometimes overwhelming. I believe that is almost as tricksy an answer as the Cottingley Fairies themselves, who are often obstreperous and contrary creatures.

And so, the film. I love the little girl in pink standing next to the “expert appraiser.” Her expressions and body language are priceless, swinging between boredom and interest. A child of a different time than Frances and Elsie, to be sure, but no less fascinated.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

freya

I was into a goddess phase for awhile. Empowerment, all that jazz. My personal belief structure has broadened since then, become (I hope) more nuanced and more inclusive. I no longer feel the need to make it a goddess vs. god universe. I like to joke that I worship the Holy Hermaphrodite, but that ain’t much of a joke. We’re all part of the same creation, yin and yang. We need to cut each other some slack.

I acquired this statue of Freya during that goddess phase, but mostly I wanted it because of that face. Who could resist it? She has such an open and serene expression that it makes me happy just to look at her. Surrounded by her gigantic necklace, Brísingamen, her hands folded meekly, you’d never know she was such a kickass female—a war goddess. That appealed to me, too, at the time. It still does to a certain extent, but what also appeals to me about Freya are her other associations with love and fertility, and her personal longing for love. Her husband, Odr, was frequently absent, you see, and she cried huge tears of red gold for him. Which proves yet again that no matter how strong and powerful we are, we can still be laid low by love.

If we’re lucky. The capacity to love is a blessing. Being laid low by it is a symptom of how open our hearts are. I was looking hard for love when I acquired this statue of Freya, a perpetual search back then. She resided in my bedroom in my old apartment, standing atop a cabinet my father made for me to hold my huge collection of earrings. Given her Brísingamen, it seemed an appropriate place for her.

Am I still looking for love? Not in the same way I was back then. I am not so particular about the kind of love I receive, not looking only for a mate. Love of any kind is a blessing, and the fires that drove me to find a partner are banked low these days. I wouldn’t turn it down if it came my way, but I don’t feel the need to seek it. Things change. Fires of all kinds renew. Phoenixes rise from ashes, and so might my quest, but mostly I’m glad not to be consumed with it anymore.

I’m pretty much a Jungian about such things. The journey within, self-knowledge, is the true goal, the true gold. That’s our only shot at understanding anything truly meaningful about the universe. I believe there is a Higher Something, but our human minds can’t comprehend it. All godhead is the same but because we are fragmented creatures we come up with a multiplicity of aspects to portray that godhead. All paths lead back to the same source, and we can’t approach it with externals, but sometimes there are very nice things that help us see an aspect of that Something.

Some years after buying the Freya statue I decided that my mythic world might be a little unbalanced and (since my pocketbook was not as challenged) I also acquired Freyr, Freya’s brother and lover. Very phallic, but that’s probably food for another post. Freya seemed much happier having him around and so was I. We please our goddesses as we please ourselves.

I have lost touch with many aspects of my sacred journey, my mystical journey into the dark heart of myself and out the other side into the light. It’s a fairy journey, into and out again. I hope to return to that rediscovered country, to see what else it can show me, and to settle myself in the now instead of the hoped-for future and much-regretted past. These things in my room are merely touchstones, aspects of a more profound reality inside my own heart and soul. Looking at them fresh again, remembering why they were important in the first place, is part of the journey back to that forgotten land. Renewal waits around the next turn in the road.

*Inspired by Xavier de Maistre’s book of the same name, I will be journeying around my sitting room/writing room as the mood strikes me and reflecting on the larger life meanings of the things I find there. The things themselves are not important—they are just objects—but hopefully those remembrances and reflections will be of interest. Another irregular series that I will probably keep up with . . . irregularly.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

PHOTO REMOVED AT THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S REQUEST

While recently reading American Folklore by Richard M. Dorson, I came upon a passage relating the curious testimony of John Josselyn from 1638. He’d taken ship to New England and upon arriving in Massachusetts Bay, was catching up on news from those he met on shore, including prodigious tales of earthquakes, mermen, monster births. He went on to say:

Mr. Foxwell came forth and related how he had passed a night at sea in a small shallop, hugging the shore but afraid to land; suddenly at midnight a loud voice called him, “Foxwell, Foxwell, come ashore,” and upon the beach he beheld a great fire ringed by dancing men and women. After an hour they vanished, and next morning Foxwell put ashore and found their footprints and brands’ ends on the sand. But no living Englishman or Indian could he find on shore or in the woods.

The passage is odd in itself, to be sure, and although logical reasons might be found to explain it, they are no fun at all. I reject them soundly. I love the fairy-like creepiness of it, and think it’s a good thing Mr. Foxwell was too timid to put ashore. The story really sets my imagination to quivering.

But the passage has extra resonance, extra quiveration, because it reminds me of a more famous passage, this one from Plutarch, On the Failure of Oracles, 17-1:

The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers. It was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind dropped, and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everybody was awake, and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. Suddenly from the island of Paxi was heard the voice of someone loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, not known by name even to many on board. Twice he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; and the caller, raising his voice, said, ‘When you come opposite to Palodes, announce that Great Pan is dead.’ On hearing this, all, said Epitherses, were astounded and reasoned among themselves whether it were better to carry out the order or to refuse to meddle and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his mind that if there should be a breeze, he would sail past and keep quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea about the place he would announce what he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thamus from the stern, looking toward the land, said the words as he had heard them: ‘Great Pan is dead.’ Even before he had finished there was a great cry of lamentation, not of one person, but of many, mingled with exclamations of amazement.

The sea holds many mysteries and dangers, but let’s not forget that strange shores do as well.

You can find the rest of this Loeb Classics Library translation of Plutarch here.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

Here are the pictures associated with my post, I Know Not Where She Came From.

IF

Here she is in situ beside the depression left by the brick.

IF

Here she is just after I’d pulled her out of the ground and dusted her off.

girl on mantel_crop

Here she is on the mantel showing her relative size. She’s 2-3/4 inches high.

girl on mantel close

And here she is up close and cleaned up.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

IF

In the evenings, I pause in my chores to take the cat on a supervised trip into the back yard. She’s proven time and again she can’t be trusted not to jump over the wall and go walkabout—which, I suspect, is how she got lost from her previous owners. She does so love the back yard. She’s quite insistent on going out, fussing and whining until I relent.

I always relent, because my dirty little secret is that I go out there as much for myself as her. Min makes a great excuse. I love to feel the wind in my face, listen to the birds, watch the gloaming slowly overtake the leaves of trees and plants, golden and syrup-rich. I love the sense of presence out there. It’s serene, one of the few things in my life right now that fills me up rather than takes away.

So as I sat in my serene place last night, I thought—mostly in a peaceful way—about letting go of so many layers of things. Letting go of fears, letting go of needless guilt and worry, of giving it up to the inexorable ebb and flow of the universe. Not give up on life, you understand. Still in there, still fighting the good fight, just reconciling myself to the fact that the universe will always have its way in the end, no matter what I or anyone else does. What I needed, what I need, is to give up the illusion of control, to make peace with that.

We’re none of us helpless flotsam in the grand old river of the universe. I truly believe things travel along with us, keeping us in the free-flowing stream as long as possible, as much as possible. Little markers of hope and fellow-feeling, sometimes larger things that buffer and stand guard. At times, the smallest things can bring the largest upwelling of hope, allowing us to float free. I don’t know what these things are, where they come from, wouldn’t care to define them in narrow human terms, but they are there as long as we allow them to be. We can’t be protected forever. Nothing can be. Sometimes we’re going to smash into rocks, sometimes we’re going to dip below the surface. Sometimes, when the time has come, we’re going to drown. It’s the nature of the journey. It’s easy to be philosophical about all this when I’m in my serene place. Difficult when I’m having trouble treading water.

From the perspective of my usual chair last night I tried to think of some better way of treading water. I wondered if, along with the illusion of control, I also had an illusion of receiving help along the way. I looked at a patch of ground near the bird bath where a few days ago I’d moved a brick that had been overgrown with moss. I saw a little face, tilted to the side, peering back at me from the fringe of the moss, just before the precipice where the brick had nestled. One little arm was raised as if she swam hard against the pushing tide of moss. I was far enough away to wonder if she might be an optical illusion, a trompe l’oeil composed of bits of leaf matter, blossoms, and hope.

I got up and drew close. There was a face, and a tiny arm, a small ceramic figurine lodged into the ground. When I pulled her out I saw she was a little fairy maiden, sitting on a leaf, resting one hand on a thimble while the other, the one she’d been swimming with, rested under her chin. I could see from her back that she’d broken off some larger piece. She had quite an Alice in Wonderland quality to her face, but I don’t recall ever owning a piece of garden ceramic with such a whimsical girl. I’d swear she hadn’t been there when I moved the brick. My hand was right there two days ago, but I didn’t remember seeing her. Clearly, she’d nestled amongst the moss a while because she was partly embedded in the soil, leaving a hollow when I pulled her free. The moss had surrounded her as it had the brick. Perhaps I’d been too distracted at the time and hadn’t noticed her, or…

I looked up at the faces hanging on the garden wall. Flora and Ivy smiled serenely back at me. Green Man looked grumpy, as always, but I wouldn’t absolutely swear there wasn’t a twinkle in his eyes. Probably the gloaming. Magic always happen in the heavy, rich light of twilight.

This post was originally written in July of 2011 when I was struggling with being the sole caregiver for my 90-something mother. I am no longer a caregiver, but the idea that something will be there for us when we need it most remains a great comfort to me.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

saint anthony abbot meets st paul the hermit by petrus agricola-sm
 

St. Anthony Abbot Meets St. Paul the Hermit by Petrus Agricola
I admit to enjoying a bit of hagiography now and then—not the sanitized (sanctified?) versions of the Catholic Church online, but the older stuff, full of the outlandish and miraculous, from the early and Medieval church. Some really interesting oddments there.

One of my favorite passages is from St. Jerome’s Life of Paulus the First Hermit, translated by W. H. Freemantle, 1893 (the spelling is Freemantle’s).

St. Antony is living in the desert of the Thebaid region of ancient Egypt and he’s thinking he’s a pretty righteous monk, a near-perfect specimen of hermit. But then in the deep of the night, God says to him, “Nuh-uh, there’s this other dude named Paulus that blows you out of the water. Or the desert, as the case may be.” Maybe God didn’t express it in quite that way, but Antony gets the message and nothing will do but he has to seek out Paulus. Now, Paulus is a hundred and one at this point, Antony is ninety-five, but Antony is determined to make this arduous trek anyway. He doesn’t know where Paulus abides, but has faith that the Lord will lead him there.

So, he’s trekking and he’s trekking and as he’s standing out in the noontide sun wondering which way to go next and he says…

“I believe in my God: some time or other He will shew me the fellow-servant whom He promised me.” He said no more. All at once he beholds a creature of mingled shape, half horse half man, called by the poets Hippocentaur. At the sight of this he arms himself by making on his forehead the sign of salvation, and then exclaims, “Holloa! Where in these parts is a servant of God living?” The monster after gnashing out some kind of outlandish utterance, in words broken rather than spoken through his bristling lips, at length finds a friendly mode of communication, and extending his right hand points out the way desired. Then with swift flight he crosses the spreading plain and vanishes from the sight of his wondering companion. But whether the devil took this shape to terrify him, or whether it be that the desert which is known to abound in monstrous animals engenders that kind of creature also, we cannot decide.

Antony was gob-smacked, as you can imagine, but he went in the direction indicated.

Before long in a small rocky valley shut in on all sides he sees a mannikin with hooted snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goat’s feet. When he saw this, Antony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope: the creature none the less began to offer him the fruit of the palm tree to support him on his journey and as it were pledges of peace. Antony perceiving this stopped and asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this:

“I am a mortal being and one of the inhabitants of the Desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord, and ours, who, we have learnt, came once to save the world, and ‘whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.’”

As he uttered such words as these, the aged traveller’s cheeks streamed with tears, the marks of his deep feeling, which he shed in the fulness of his joy. He rejoiced over the Glory of Christ and the destruction of Satan, and marvelling all the while that he could understand the Satyr’s language, and striking the ground with his staff, he said,

“Woe to thee, Alexandria, who instead of God worshippest monsters! Woe to thee, harlot city, into which have flowed together the demons of the whole world! What will you say now? Beasts speak of Christ, and you instead of God worship monsters.”

He had not finished speaking when, as if on wings, the wild creature fled away.

Can you blame it? He asks for a blessing and a good word put in for him and his kind to God and he gets a screed. But lest anyone’s skepticism assert itself over this encounter, St. Jerome hastens to add:

Let no one scruple to believe this incident; its truth is supported by what took place when Constantine was on the throne, a matter of which the whole world was witness. For a man of that kind was brought alive to Alexandria and shewn as a wonderful sight to the people. Afterwards his lifeless body, to prevent its decay through the summer heat, was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might see it.

He was alive, but apparently that encounter didn’t go so well for this poor, assaulted then salted being.

Antony and Paulus do hook up eventually, though Paulus seems pretty eager to send this weeping and screeding old guy on an errand so he can die in peace. You can read the whole story here.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

uniquehorn-sm2

Returning once again to my old favorite, Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland by Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green, to speak of fairy horses, the fíor-làr. There are many, many stories in Celtic lore about horse spirits, but Mr. Lenihan’s informants say that they are generally born to regular mares. There’s some debate what makes a horse fairy instead of ordinary, because to outward appearances they look like any other horse. One story goes that you know you’ve got one of those “funny fish” when the gestation of the foal takes 366 days—the old, magical formula of a year and a day. Most foals gestate in ten or eleven months (according to the old timer telling this story).

Like as not when you have a fairy horse they will be a good horse, but given to disappearing for short spells of time when the fairies require its services. But never fear, the fairies play fair in this regard. If you’re depending on that horse, they’ll substitute another until it’s time for the fíor-làr to be returned to you.

And then there’s this, a more spirit-horse version of fairy horses, taken from The Paranormalist.

He recounts the story told him by author, Herbie Brennan:

Shortly thereafter, as Herbie and Jim turned to leave the rath, along the top of the earthen ring, there suddenly appeared a herd of approximately twenty to twenty-five tiny, white horses “no bigger than cocker spaniels”, in the words of Mr. Brennan. The tiny horses galloped along the top of the earthwork, disappearing down the opposite side. Herbie and Jim ran out of the rath andto the other side to see what had happened to to the tiny horses, but they had vanished. Neither man had any explanation for what they had just seen.

Some years later, Herbie told the story of the white horses to his good friend, the late author Desmond Leslie. Leslie had a fascination with mythology and was quite knowledgeable about the subject. Upon hearing Herbie’s account of the tiny horses, Leslie replied, “Dear boy, don’t you know what those were?”. Herbie replied that he had no idea whatsoever what they were, only that he’d seen them. “Those were faerie horses,” Mr. Leslie continued. “They’re associated with the megaliths of Ireland, and there are also reports of them in Japan.”

You can watch Mr. Brennan himself tell the tale below, the first of three stories that explain how he was very reluctantly convinced in the reality of fairies through personal experience:

I’ll have more to say about “fairy photography” one of these days, but let me conclude by saying that I think anyone who’s been around horses much—and I used to be, although sadly not so much anymore—knows that some horses just are special. Even if they don’t have unexplained disappearances to their credit, are not miniature white glowing spirits, sinister kelpies or what all, some of them do seem to have a touch of the fey. Great, dreamy-eyed beasts that they are, they often have their heads in two worlds at once and seem to know much more than the two-leggers astride them. Old souls or fairy-led, I cannot say. Just that they are special.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)
One of my favorite books on fairy lore is Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland by Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green. It's a marvelous book, full of stories, and the lyrical voice of Ireland. Eddie Lenihan is one of the few seanchai, the old time Gaelic storytellers, left, and he's been collecting tales from other seanchai and common folk for decades. Like this little bit from Croom, October 12, 2001:

"I know that the whitethorn is always associated with the sioga.* That's why 'tis called the fairy tree. But 'tis the lone whitethorn in the middle of a field that's the dangerous one. There was a reason why that was left there, you see. No one but a fool would interfere with that.


And this from Drumline, September 19, 2001:

"I s'pose, if a fairy is molested, if you go tampering or meddling with 'em, well, they'll retaliate. 'Tis only kind o' natural, retaliation when you're interfered with. Nearly everyone in Ireland is aware that it isn't the done thing. Was never the done thing. The most ignorant people in Ireland, people that were illiterate, wouldn't bring a thorn out o' them forts."**


And as Mr. Lenihan puts it:

"Country people...would laugh....' 'Tis only children believe in them old stories, that old kind o' nonsense.'

"And yet, later that same night, in the pub, when all the laughing and mocking is done, the serious talk will begin, hesitant at first, then more freely, until at last, many pints of Guinness later, even those who mocked earlier in the night will finally—and not for the first or last time—admit that, yes, 'There's something there, all right. Petey (or Johnny, or Paddy or whoever) is not liar, whatever else he is.'

"And in such unpromising companies, by not retreating from impending scorn, ridicule, I have very often come away with a completely different knowledge of people I thought I knew before.

"And such confrontations have, I think, brought to the surface for some of those mockers, too, something deep, something that may have been forgotten in our hurly-burly world of 'acquire, have, experience, spend'...a lifting of a corner of that veil that separates us from a world that is right beside us, but for most of us as far away as Heaven...or Hell! "




*The fairies.
**Hill forts, of fairy forts, patches of land long associated with fairy activity.
folklorelei: (the siren)

This post, in a slightly different form, was originally a contribution made to Dr. Beachcombing’s Bizarre History blog, January 22, 2012: “What Religion did Fairies Follow?”

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While reading Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert Lebling I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting the way Islam views their versions of fairies and the way fairies are often regarded in such books as Eddie Lenihan’s collection, Meeting the Other Crowd. The priests in those Irish stories tell of fairies being a rather sad lot, knowing they’ll never gain salvation (because they aren’t human). This makes them inimical to good Christians everywhere. Similar themes have been reported in the Icelandic tradition. I must say, if I knew that the accident of my birth (as a fairy) would mean I’d be condemned at the End of Time, I might feel rather peeved myself and tend to act out in unpleasant ways against “the lucky ones.”

In Islam the situation is somewhat different, as this passage from Legends of the Fire Spirits shows:

The earliest Muslim interpretations of jinn regard them as having free will, like humans, able to choose between good and evil. The Qur’an itself has a chapter devoted to these spirit beings: Sura 72, Al-Jinn. This sura begins by mentioning a group of jinn who listened to the recitation of the Qur’an and decided to accept Islam…

An ancient mosque in Mecca is dedicated to the jinn who accepted the Prophet’s message. Masjid al-Jinn (Mosque of the Jinn) is either the locale where the jinn actually listened to the Prophet recite the Qur’an, or the place where he received revelation of the sura called Al-Jinn….

Richard Burton visited this mosque and wrote of it in Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.

Legends of the Fire Spirits again:

These jinn made a commitment to monotheism, the core of Islam. Other Qur’anic passages indicate that jinn had heard of earlier revelations, such as that of Moses and the Trinitarian doctrine of Christianity.

For Muslims, the beings we call jinn—however they may be conceptualised—are an integral and ever-present part of the language and theology of their faith. The existence of these creatures is assumed and reiterated numerous places in the Qur’an. The book, at its very outset, calls Allah rabb al’-alamin, ‘lord of the worlds,’ understood from the earliest days of Islam to mean all possible worlds that could exist, including the worlds of humans, of jinn and of heaven. The Qur’an often mentions mankind and jinn together as the two types of creatures capable of receiving—and accepting or rejecting—the divine message.

I’m also rather partial to the notion held in Morocco, and mentioned in The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah, that it is the djinns themselves who decide whether a person is going to believe in them or not.

Also, both djinn and jinn are accepted spellings for these marvelous creatures. Being a contrarian, I of course prefer the more complicated spelling of djinn. I don’t suppose the djinns themselves care…or maybe they do. They are beings of remarkable discrimination, taste, talent, and free will.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales

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